The New England regional power system is undergoing a major transformation. According to the Regional Electricity Outlook 2016 report published by the regional grid operator, Independent System Operator New England (ISO-NE), about 30 per cent of the region’s coal, oil and nuclear facilities will be retired by 2020, with most of them being replaced by natural gas or renewable energy. With the New England states implementing aggressive renewable energy programmes, including the development of generation and transmission facilities, renewable energy is going to be one of the key elements of the region’s new resource base.
The six New England states (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) have energy and environmental statutory objectives, which need to be met through the use of no or low-carbon resources. One approach that has been adopted by some states is individual but coordinated clean power procurement. To this end, in November 2015, a consortium of utilities and agencies of three New England states, Connecticut (Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection [CT DEEP]), Rhode Island (Narragansett Electric Company), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Unitil, Massachusetts Electric Company, Nantucket Electric Company, NSTAR Electric Company and Eversource Energy), issued a request for proposal (RfP) to identify clean energy projects in the region. Through this RfP, the utilities seek to identify projects that may enable companies in each state to achieve their respective state’s clean energy goals more cost effectively than if each state were to proceed unilaterally while also complying with the applicable legal requirements of each state. The RfP was issued in line with various legislations of the concerned states including “An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals” (Connecticut), the Green Communities Act (Massachusetts) and the Affordable Clean Energy Security Act (Rhodes Island).
The RfP not only sought projects for the delivery of clean energy through traditional power purchase agreements (PPAs) that do not require transmission upgrades, but also for transmission projects with commitments to deliver clean energy, with or without any associated PPAs. In response, it received 24 bids (in January 2016) including in-region and imported stand-alone renewable energy (large solar, wind, fuel cells and hydro) generation proposals, stand-alone transmission project proposals, and proposals that combine regional renewable energy and transmission.
The proposals focusing on transmission include the following:
- Maine Clean Power Connection (MCPC) project: Central Maine Power (CMP), a subsidiary of Avangrid, Inc., has proposed the project. The MCPC proposal would help expand Maine’s bulk power transmission system to deliver up to 550 MW of clean energy to New England. It entails the construction of a new 345 kV substation near Johnson Mountain Township; a new 66 mile (106.2 km) transmission line connecting the new substation to CMP’s existing grid in Pittsfield, Maine; a new three-terminal 345 kV switchyard in Pittsfield, Maine, where the MCPC will tie into the existing ISO-NE-administered 345 kV transmission grid; and a new 345 kV shunt capacitor bank (75 MVAr) at the existing Coopers Mills substation to maintain system voltage. Under the MCPC, CMP will mainly use the existing corridors and right of way (RoW) to deliver maximum benefit to Maine and New England with minimal impact on the environment.
- Clean Energy Connect: Clean Energy Connect is the product of the close cooperation of five leading energy companies. It entails the delivery of more than 600 MW of renewable energy from New York to western Massachusetts, bundled from three new wind farms being developed by Iberdrola Renewables LLC, three wind farms being developed by EDP Renewables North America, LLC, and several existing balancing hydro facilities provided by Brookfield Renewable Erie Power LLC. The diverse and reliable supply of clean energy is proposed to be transported via a new, 25 mile (40.2 km), dedicated high voltage transmission line, which will be developed, owned and operated by A-B Transmission New York, Inc. (Brookfield Infrastructure) and Eversource Energy Transmission Ventures, Inc.
The project is likely to provide significant and lasting benefits to the procuring states. These include base-load renewable energy deliveries, a large decline in carbon emissions, reduced dependency on fossil fuels, and increased reliability, interconnection capacity with neighbouring states, and employment and tax revenues.
- Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect (MREI): This is another project proposed by CMP, jointly with Emera Maine. Maine has the most extensive and reliable wind resources available for the New England market. Currently, about 1,300 MW of wind capacity is in operation or in the planning/permitting or construction phase across the state. However, limitations in the existing transmission system constrain the feasibility of this generation capacity. Therefore, under MREI, the two companies propose to invest in the region’s bulk power system to construct 150 miles (241.4 km) of new lines and new substations. The project will help deliver 1,200 MW of renewable energy from wind energy projects in northern Maine, including the King Pine wind project (600 MW) being developed by SunEdison and two Aroostook county wind farms (348.5 MW and 248 MW) being developed by EDP Renewables.
By bringing more renewables into the system, the project will reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels, and enhance price stability, energy security and supply diversity in Maine and the region. It is estimated that the project will lead to wholesale cost savings in the regional energy markets of nearly $70 million per year between 2020 and 2039, creating around 3,850 jobs annually through 2020. This will increase the region’s GDP by over $1 billion through the development and construction of both transmission infrastructure and renewable generation resources.
- Evergreen Express: Evergreen Express is a part of the joint proposal submitted by NextEra Bidding Affiliates, which includes Penobscot Wind, LLC, Moose Wind, LLC, NextEra Energy Resources Acquisition, LLC, and New Hampshire Transmission, LLC (NHT). NextEra’s proposal includes two wind projects totalling 461 MW near Eustis, Maine, 50 MW of battery storage capability, a 150 MW solar installation in Moscow, Maine, and a 114 mile (183.5 km) transmission line. The proposed project will integrate up to 661 MW of diverse clean energy resources and provide much-needed transmission investment to ease the existing power system constraints, thereby transmitting around 850 MW of clean energy.
Under Evergreen Express, NHT proposes to develop a 114 mile (183.5 km) 345 kV overhead alternating current transmission line in west-central Maine. The proposed line will enable the delivery of clean energy to the CMP 345 kV Larrabee Road pool transmission facility substation located in Lewiston, Maine, as well to three new 345 kV switching stations. The proposed transmission facilities are referred to as the NHT Express Elective Transmission Upgrade.
- Northern Pass Line (NPL): The NPL is being developed by two companies: Canada’s Hydro-Québec (HQ) and the US-based Eversource Energy. The project is expected to be operational by May 2019. It will deliver 1,090 MW of clean and competitively priced energy (hydropower from HQ) over a high voltage transmission line from the Des Cantons substation in Quebec, Canada, to Deerfield, New Hampshire. The new high voltage direct current line will run approximately 49 miles (79 km) in Québec (with 37.2 miles [60 km] of the line located next to an existing line and 11.8 miles [19 km] placed in a new RoW). On the New Hampshire side, the line is 192 miles (309 km) long. It will follow an existing transmission line RoW and 80 per cent of it will be constructed underground, with the remaining being located in a new transmission corridor that has already been acquired.
Under the proposal, HQ has committed to deliver at least 6.3 terawatt hour of firm incremental hydropower annually to the New England wholesale energy market all year long at prevailing market prices for 20 years. In exchange, it is proposed that the contracting utilities cover the costs associated with the NPL for an initial period of 20 years, after which HQ will bear the costs for an additional 20 years. Moreover, the bidders have not sought any PPAs with electric utilities for this power. They have the option of purchasing power as and when required, providing them with maximum flexibility and no purchase obligations.
The project is likely to reduce CO2 emissions by about 3 million tonnes a year, resulting in an overall benefit of about $4 billion. This would lower the impact of carbon on human health, agriculture and the entire ecosystem.
- Vermont Green Line: The Vermont Green Line is being developed by Anbaric and National Grid, which joined forces in 2014 to develop transmission lines to bring renewable energy into New England. The Vermont Green Line will be developed by two companies along with renewable project developer Invenergy LLC. Under the RfP, Invenergy will build a wind power project, the Bull Run Energy Center, while the two grid companies will develop a 60 mile (96.6 km), 400 MW transmission system designed to link Beekmantown, New York with New Haven, Vermont via an underground cable along public roadways and submerged beneath the waters of Lake Champlain. It entails 6 miles (9.66 km) of underground cable in New York, around 40 miles (64.4 km) of sea cable under Lake Champlain, around 13 miles (21 km) of underground cable in Vermont and converter stations at each end of the cable. The project is estimated to cost $600 million. Once all the permits have been granted, the company expects to begin construction in 2017 and put the project in service in 2019/2020.
The Vermont Green Line will benefit New England energy customers by saving them around $500 million. This will be possible through the delivery of affordable renewable energy, by reducing power production costs by nearly $900 million, meeting the increasing renewable energy requirements of the states, and avoiding around $1 billion in “alternative compliance payments” over 20 years.
Other than the above-mentioned transmission projects, several bids were received for renewable-based generation projects. These include several wind projects such as the 250 MW wind project by EverPower near Cherryfield, Maine; the Blueberry Hill wind project of unspecified size located near Deblois, Maine; the Moose and Alder Stream wind projects of 245 MW and 216 MW respectively; the 22.8 MW Canton Mountain wind project; and the 72.6 MW SunEdison’s Weaver wind project near the town of Eastbrook, Maine. Some of the solar projects proposed in response to the RfP include a 20 MW solar photovoltaic plant by Ameresco in New Milford, Connecticut; the 26.4 MW Simsbury solar project in Connecticut; and the 50 MW Chinook solar project (scalable up to 100 MW) in Brooklyn and Canterbury, Connecticut.
Apart from solar and wind, which account for the majority of the proposed projects, the proposed Beacon Falls Energy Park in Connecticut will be the world’s largest fuel cell energy project, at 63.3 MW. Moreover, it will utilise the Connecticut-manufactured fuel cell technology.
The way forward
With several bids received in response to the RfP, there is strong potential for the New England states to increase their clean energy supply. While the three-state process opens up the possibility of large-scale projects, companies in each state will select the projects that are most beneficial for their customers and consistent with their particular statutes. Consequently, the evaluation and selection process will involve companies from each state, which will review and rank bids based on the requirements of their respective states. Then the com-panies from all three states will work together to determine whether they can create a project portfolio that would reduce the cost for customers in each of the three states and still comply with the requirements and clean energy goals of each state.
Currently, the bidder selection process is ongoing and is scheduled to be completed by late July 2016, potentially resulting in PPAs before the end of the year. Many projects are, however, at the very early stages of development. Hence, issues like interconnection delays and timing of delivery are likely to be major factors in determining the viability of such projects.